Why I will not be going back to school this fall

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By Evan Lu, Webmaster When the threat of the coronavirus crept into campuses in March, it sparked a seismic shift in the way schools operate.  Following government and public health guidelines, the TESD shut down schools, sending students home for distance learning. At the time, I welcomed what seemed to be a short break from...

By Evan Lu, Webmaster

When the threat of the coronavirus crept into campuses in March, it sparked a seismic shift in the way schools operate. 

Following government and public health guidelines, the TESD shut down schools, sending students home for distance learning. At the time, I welcomed what seemed to be a short break from the stress that often accompanies school. As time went on, I began to recognize the harsh reality of prolonged online schooling – from the scarcity of online resources in some districts to the serious implications on mental health. By the time Conestoga reopened on Oct. 12, the importance of returning to the classroom through some form of a hybrid model was clearer than ever. However, I still haven’t gone back and will not be going back in the foreseeable future. 

While I haven’t yet returned to school, I do understand that schools are fundamental institutions in our society. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, school is an important bulwark against food insecurity, physical inactivity, physical and sexual abuse, substance use, depression and suicidal ideation.

Furthermore, schools teach students valuable academic skills and facilitate social interaction. The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning emphasizes that social interaction at school fosters the development of “language, communication, social, emotional and interpersonal skills” that are used by students for the rest of their lives.

It is evident that the reopening of schools is essential for some. Nevertheless, for me and many of my peers, it is not yet time to return to in-person learning.

This is because reopening schools still raises several safety concerns. I’m skeptical of the feasibility of enforcing face masks, especially among younger students. If adults complain about masks and struggle to wear them consistently on short trips to the supermarket, how can we expect elementary students to wear them throughout a seven-hour school day? Coming from personal experience as a former elementary school student and as a brother of a current fourth-grader, I wouldn’t even be surprised to see kids exchanging masks at school like they’re trading baseball cards. Even worse, a survey by the EdWeek Research Center shows that just 36% of schools are even requiring mask-wearing among students. It doesn’t help that enrollment at T/E schools is higher than ever, creating worries that proper social distancing protocols will not be followed and that allowing students to return to the physical classroom may pose serious risks to students and the community.

 As fall – and the cold and flu season – approaches around the country, an analysis by the Washington Post found that 27 states across the nation have experienced increases in the seven-day average of newly confirmed cases since the final week of August. Reopening schools now, while the pandemic is still at large, could cause a deadly increase in new cases regardless of the benefits of in-person learning.

Accordingly, the best solution is to reopen schools while making it clear that students should continue distance learning unless a lack of in-person learning poses a serious risk to a student’s access to educational, physical or mental well-being. Although returning to school is necessary for some, those who can stay at home should do so to protect their own health and the health of others. For instance, special education students or those that depend on school for reliable meals may need to return to school. On the other hand, unnecessarily returning to school puts vulnerable students and faculty with autoimmune disorders and underlying conditions at risk. Additionally, since I live with my parents, younger sister and grandparents, I worry about possibly spreading the virus to my family. For me, the importance of safety outweighs the benefits of in-person learning.

For students that must return, schools should ensure their access to a complete education while prioritizing safety by implementing strict face mask mandates and enforcing social distancing guidelines. Equally important are safety measures such as mandatory temperature checks, hand-washing, the careful monitoring of confirmed cases and contact tracing. 

Rain or shine, deadly pandemic or not, schools have a duty to not only deliver an effective education, but to provide a safe environment for students to interact, communicate and develop essential skills. As such, reopening our schools is an uncomfortable necessity. But for now, I’ll still be at home.

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